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5 Years After My HIV Diagnosis

April 2, 2014

David Duran

David Duran

My roommate at the time was having doubts about whether he should be tested for HIV. He said it had been a year or so since the last time he took an HIV test. I had been volunteering for the local AIDS Walk and was just starting to get more heavily involved with the organization. I offered to take him to get tested and volunteered to have one as well, to help ease his fear. I was in full-on support mode for my friend, fearing the worst for him and never considering once that I might be the one needing his support one day.

The good news for my friend that day was that he remained negative. After his test, it was my turn. In hindsight, I should have gone first, but for some reason, I went second. My HIV test counselor was pretty straightforward and nice. I had explained to her why I was there and how my roommate was pretty worried about his results, but in the end, he had "passed the test." It was at that moment of confidence when I heard her say, "Baby, you positive."

The moment my life changed was on April 4, 2009, when my HIV test counselor had to break the rules and go get my friend from the waiting room to comfort me, and walk me down the back stairs that exited directly to the parking lot, because I was too distraught to show my face in the waiting room and main lobby. It's a perfect example of role reversal, and I am so thankful that he was there that day.

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I told my family and a few close friends, but to the rest of the world, nothing was wrong. Showing up to the volunteer meetings at the HIV organization I was working with was beyond painful. I didn't share my secret with anyone there, even though I know now that they would have been my number one support system.

I spent the first month after my diagnosis drinking and drinking heavily. I began antiretroviral medication immediately, as well as a plethora of antianxiety/depression cocktails. The doctors had no problems issuing me prescriptions for combinations of pills to help with all my symptoms. I let my work slip and was terminated from my amazing job, which I had worked so hard to get at that time in my life. By May, just a month after diagnosis, I had ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning from a week of non-stop binge drinking. It took me almost two years before I would find some sense of normalcy in my life. Within those two years, I found myself in a new city and had reawakened to become the person I am today.

I wish I could have back the two years I wasted feeling low and useless. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have had my downward spiral.

I wish I could have back the two years I wasted feeling low and useless. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have had my downward spiral. Having settled in San Francisco after the diagnosis, I opted to attend a weekend support group for newly diagnosed people given by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. What that amazing weekend showed me was that there were others like me, and that I was more in my element doing the comforting versus being comforted. That weekend proved to me that I was a lot stronger than I originally thought, and all I needed was for that light switch to be flipped on. The friends I made that weekend are all still friends today. Through the years they have all evolved and also been transformed into compassionate helpers and activists. I wasn't the only one that decided to do something more to help. Each of my new friends, in their own way, became a better person that weekend and is now either directly or indirectly -- sometimes without knowing it -- helping others and being a role model.

David Duran

When I finally had the courage to come out publicly, I did it in a big way. Being a writer, I published my second coming out to let the world know that I was HIV positive and I didn't care. To this date, my only regret is that I didn't pen it sooner. The overwhelming feelings of fear and shame were lifted almost immediately upon coming out, which is not an unfamiliar feeling for those who come out as gay.

I've spent the past three years writing about my feelings regarding my journey, my struggle and my opinions. I've been an open book and consider myself an activist in my own way. I work with HIV organizations, speak at conferences and events, and volunteer when I can to help to make a difference. I'm fortunate that in my career, I have a voice, and I can spread a message through many outlets. I've also realized that the words of confidence I speak in a personal setting are just as powerful as the words I write that are read in national magazines and prominent websites.

The only way that more people will feel comfortable talking about HIV is to make HIV a nonissue. Coming out as HIV positive and showing your friends, family and the world that you are still the same person they know is the best way to start.

The only way that more people will feel comfortable talking about HIV is to make HIV a nonissue. Coming out as HIV positive and showing your friends, family and the world that you are still the same person they know is the best way to start. Helping to kill the stigma surrounding HIV is what's necessary now. Whether it's raising money for HIV/AIDS research, PrEP as prevention, HIV stigma, knowing your status, or anything that reaches out to you, do something to help that movement.

As my five-year anniversary approaches this April 4, I am feeling 100% blessed to live the life I live and want nothing more than to be a voice for my generation, helping others, and myself, by knowing that I can make a difference. Whether it's writing a cover story on HIV for a magazine or posting on my Facebook wall about HIV, it's all equally important. If you are HIV positive, regardless of whether it's been one day or 20 years, your voice is just as needed, and now is the time to speak out. We are stronger in numbers, and the more we help each other overcome what we need to overcome, the sooner the rest of the world will catch up and join us.

David Duran is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at @theemuki.


Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.



This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
See Also
Ten Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
Depression and HIV
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More Personal Viewpoints on Coping With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: ID (South Africa) Wed., Jun. 18, 2014 at 7:41 am EDT
Very inspiring thanks for sharing your story with us You have uplifted my spirit,
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Comment by: Johnny (Sacramento) Tue., Apr. 22, 2014 at 2:52 pm EDT
Thank you for this encouraging story. Yes, two wasted years; I had that feeling about the first several years after my diagnosis in 1989, after years of living abroad and having thereby lost any sort of support network. At least these days those living with HIV are given a hopeful narrative of recovery to spur acceptance and externalization of feelings about the diagnosis. When I was diagnosed in 1989, it was pretty much just doom and gloom all over, even from professional HIV services. The biggest challenge for me was to separate myself from the indoctrination of sickness as normative "HIV culture." All the official support networks were predicated on imagining me as being on a trajectory of illness because of this "fatal" condition.

Sure, I would presumably have gotten ill eventually, but in fact I never got ill. I just had to start mentally making space for illness for the sake of participating in the dominant HIV culture so as to get emotional support, which privileged those who were ill and had compelling illness narratives. For the rest of us, the worried well, we just had to accept that this represented us, or our future. In retrospect, coming out about my HIV status in those days resulted in a huge waste of time, because I basically had to pretend to be experiencing illness in order to feel that I belonged, when in fact that was not my real experience. But at the time the downward path was the accepted truth.

After a few years I started to renew my pre-diagnosis interests, which were not centered on having HIV, and which the diagnosis had disrupted. Eventually medicine improved, and now the HIV world is more socially inclusive in welcoming narratives of wellness, so maybe I can finally feel like I belong without having to be sick. So, while I acknowledge that many have suffered through medical issues, I'm also grateful for stories that are more about social acceptance and aren't only grounded in "how sick I used to be."
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Comment by: Zef (Jakarta, IDN) Sun., Apr. 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm EDT
I was moved by your story and how you overcome it. On late January 2014 I was diagnosed positive. So far, I only tell 2 of my best friends and they have been my number one supports. The fact that I accept my condition is somewhat gets me through rough time, but yes I know there are still more to come. Your story is very inspiring and gave me the courage to move forward. Thank you for sharing with us.
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Comment by: In-Cog Nitto (Central Florida) Fri., Apr. 18, 2014 at 6:47 am EDT
While I need to remain anonymous,fearing the loss of a very good position, I went through your process TWO times, one time after a horrid accident that took the life of a good friend, then again 10 years ago when I got my AIDS label with 101 T-cells and a viral load over 68,000. I lived to tell about it - and am facing a new challenge - anal cancer testing is in process. Your story pushes me to the edge of coming out but I just need to be financially more prudent at this time - I am reaching out to local organizations with the intent to be a sounding board of sorts in our new battles as people LIVING with HIV. Making everyone aware of the mainstream health issues we need to pay attention to - such as having annual anal pap smear testing done. Thank you, and perhaps I will be posting in the future with my real name.
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Comment by: Laurie (Crawford, Colorado) Wed., Apr. 16, 2014 at 9:15 pm EDT
Thank you, for sharing about your recovery, it is exactly what saved my life three years ago. I was diagnosed 25 years ago with 90 days sober & clean I stayed sober for three yrs and then another time 4 years then it was full out war on me till three years ago. Something like 15 years I just wanted to disappear. I moved from Baltimore with an amazing amount of support to the middle of no where, in the mountains. I had all intentions of being sober but with out the support I found my self back in a place of incomprehensible demoralization. Recovery is best for me. Grateful to be sober and grateful to hear your story. It gives me hope that I am not alone.
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Comment by: Stacey F. (Los Angeles) Mon., Apr. 14, 2014 at 11:32 am EDT
I absolutely loved this and got teary reading it. Thank you for sharing this story with the world and for using that difficulties that life has sent your way to enhance the lives of others.
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (OYSTER BAY, NY) Thu., Apr. 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm EDT
Beautifully written! You went thru all the same things I did 27 years ago! I came out in a big way with an article in Body Positive in 1999 and when they contacted me in 2009 for a 10 year follow up, I started a blog ob this website. I look forward to reading more of your writing!
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Comment by: Mark S. King (Washington, DC) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm EDT
"I wish I could have back the two years I wasted feeling low and useless." I hear that loud and clear, and I also know that nothing in this life is really wasted, especially when it helps us develop empathy for the lives of others. Congrats, David.
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Comment by: Ben at the Body (Chicago) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm EDT
Really amazing piece; I identify with a lot of it.
...the one thing though: more research needs to be done into this "Downward Spiral." Many close to me assumed that's the direction I was heading after diagnosis.
Mine came BEFORE diagnosis. The news jolted me out of it. Literally, it's night and day. Someone should do a study about the "HIV Downward Spiral" in 2014.
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Comment by: Jo (Atlanta ) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 11:15 am EDT
Very inspiring story. I felt the same way when i spoke up about my status in a documentary. I couldn't agree with you more. We are both very blessed people, and the stigma needs to go. Thank you for sharing your story
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Comment by: Damon L. Jacobs (New York, NY ) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 1:49 am EDT
What an articulate and brave statement! Mr. Duran shows incredible character and integrity in his ability to chronicle his journey, and show how any one of us can use painful challenges to inspire others. I love the idea of taking back shame through the power of our words and "coming out." Thank you, David, for sharing this with your readers.
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